Saturday, 23 March 2013

A Wish

Jet lag finally left me at the start of this week. In a funny kind of way I was sad to see it go.

It was to say the least an inconvenience. I frequently felt like I was still walking when I'd just stopped, but there was more to it than that.

I'd not get dizzy for a while and quickly assume that was it, only to be hit once again with that strange feeling of motion without motion.

It all reminded me of the sense of the incredible that I'd experienced.

Walking alone down the streets in Japan at night was one of the most serene experiences of my adult life.

My Ipod, as it does, seemed to fire a line of perfection straight to my brain and only chose songs that were either beautiful, sad or both.

It wasn't until it picked me a song from one of my favourite videogames of all time that I really got a sense of something so special it pretty much pinned me to the spot.

If you read this very often you'll get why I play old videogames so much. There's no purer test. Modern games simply can't compare in so many different ways. The internet was simultaneously the best and worst thing ever happen to videogaming. It opened up the world but it killed our imagination.

Secret of Mana is still a game I refuse to consult the internet for because I've played it that many times I don't really need to but more to the point I don't want to. I turn off my laptop and play it on a day when I've got time to myself and that's all I have to think about.

The particular piece of music above comes at a real turning point in the story where the party have to negotiate an icy forest in order to progress. It's the first time in many ways that you get a real sense of group harmony. The lady, I always called her Mina for some reason, is still looking for Dyluck. The sprite is still angry at everyone and leaning new spells and our intrepid hero has no idea why fate has chosen him to save the world.

The Crystal Forest is truly one of the most magical points of the entire story. The party throw themselves into the task with a remarkable zeal and true serenity of the accompanying score acts a perfect counterbalance to this new found determination. It sings a perfect 16 bit lullaby, reminding us that however focused or driven we may be, the realisation of true beauty is always empowering.

I played this game first when I was around 15 and I'd borrowed it from a friend at school. These agreements always came with a set of terms and the primary was simply that I'd only got a week before my friend wanted the game back. My studies, as they did frequently back then, took a back seat to this all encompassing world as I vanquished a never ending army of monsters every evening that week in February.

My progress was good but simply not good enough, however, and I found myself stuck fast on the last dungeon in the game on Thursday evening with my return date set at the following morning. I waited until my parents had gone to sleep and silently powered up my trusty Super Nintendo. Sitting steadfast in my chair, I was determined to give it one last effort.

This was easily looking like my finest attempt but it seemingly wasn't to be and the final boss crushed both my party and my dreams in one fell swoop. I retreated to bed with my head still full of questions regarding just what could have happened if I'd have saved the world.

For some reason the next morning I woke up super early and realised I had time for one last effort but I'd not saved my game from last night and had to begin in the Crystal Forest. I turned the sound on low and immediately was enthralled by the haunting melodies that I'd somehow heard but never listened to.

I sat and imagined other worlds and places and wondered how real any of them were? I thought about destinations all over this planet and others and thought of people just like me looking up at the same sky but seeing stars. I lost track of how long this lasted but it clearly lasted long enough to thwart my chances of a resolution.

As I resigned myself to another day of school and sadly the thought of returning the game, I drew open the curtains and the results left me almost without breath. There had been a severe snowfall over night and the main road I could just make out from the distance was white as a sheet and jam packed with non moving cars.

This couldn't happen today could it?

I sprinted downstairs and powered up the nearest radio to listen intently to the school closures with the vain hope of hearing mine there but, alas, as the gleeful presenter reached the end of his list it was nowhere to be heard.

I was broken. This was crueler than anything I had words for. I drank my tea and began my cereal before a noise from the kitchen once again caught my attention. The presenter was reading a list of further cancellations and as I walked in I heard him utter the words, "St Thomas More RC High School is closed for the day due to the snow to both pupils and staff."

I couldn't believe it. I looked at my mum who instantly reboiled the kettle, it was obvious what I was going to ask I like to think, and I quickly began changing into casual clothes for the day's inevitable gaming marathon. Mother Nature had come to my rescue and, although not a great believer in fate, I felt that this was the universe reaching out and sending me a message.

I beat the game later in the day, she did find Dyluck eventually but it's a complicated story, however more than the snowy paradise of a lost Friday , I always seem to cling on to the daydream I had. Every single time I hear that music I'm transported back to that day when I tried to comprehend the scope of something so vast that it's impossible to even begin.

Walking through down the streets of Japan that night I clutched my recently purchased tea bags and milk to my side as I made my way back to the hotel. I was exhausted but as the familiar tones of the Crystal Forest began echoing through my head I felt compelled to stare upwards for what seemed like a lifetime.

Those same stars I'd wondered about seemed closer than ever.
The mystical lands lay beneath my feet and any dream suddenly felt possible.

There's no way we'll ever know everything; it's foolish to approach this logically. It's never wrong to dream about such complexities however, to swim in vast oceans of the unfathomable or to picture somewhere that seems a million miles away.

That moment was my wish and for those few minutes of Crystal clarity, nothing else even registered.

Speak soon
Take care
I'll never let you down

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

There's a line drawn in the sand, I'm working up the will to cross it

It's a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it - John Steinbeck

There's a few reasons why I wanted to write this today. I've had a big rush of things to say and, spurred on by watching videos of people making videos for the sake of making videos, I'm aware of the importance of self reflection.

I've had a lot of time to think over the past few days, what with travelling quite a lot, and I've reached a few important conclusions.

I'm officially retiring from the world of MMA Journalism.

In all honesty this isn't that big an announcement as it seems because I've not been writing online much since last July but I've been continuing my endeavors in print with Fighters Only. I've had some truly amazing experiences and would like to thank everyone for their support. It's been nothing short of incredible but the time has come to put it behind me and move forward. No more Ben "The Pen", to be fair I was getting sick of that anyway!

Secondly, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who helped me out, not only while I was away, but at any point on this crazy journey. There's way too many of you to mention but you know who you are, all of you.

Everyone who helped me out in any way this past weekend, however, I'm eternally in your debt. You all made what was a fairly insane experience, perfect. I couldn't have asked for a better time and the serenity I felt eating a shrimp burger and chatting with some really cool people made everything slow down a little bit which was perfect.

Rather than write a huge meandering blog about my travels this time, however, I thought I'd pin up a series of videos and images that sum up exactly my experiences.

Speak soon,
Take Care